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Devils aim to rebound at Columbus

by Tal Pinchevsky
DEVILS (33-34-4) at BLUE JACKETS (32-28-10)


Last 10 – New Jersey 7-3-0; Columbus 1-5-4.

Season series – This is the first and only meeting this season between these teams, who last played more than a year ago, on Mar. 23, 2010. In that game, Ilya Kovalchuk snapped a four-game pointless streak with a four-point night that paced the Devils to a 6-3 home win.

Big story – Both teams are relying on a late-season push to propel them into the playoffs. But a recent slide for both teams has put their respective playoff hopes in peril. The Devils' scorching-hot play since re-hiring Jacques Lemaire as their head coach on Dec. 23 has hit a speedbump while the Jackets have picked an inopportune time to go cold.

Team Scope:

Devils – After opening the new Jacques Lemaire era with seven losses in eight games, New Jersey proceeded to go on an incredible 23-3-2 run that launched them back into playoff contention. That improbable run was halted with two consecutive losses last week.

Following a 3-1 loss in Ottawa on Thursday, the Devils hosted the Capitals on Friday, falling 3-0 to the Southeast-Division leaders. Mike Knuble contributed two goals and an assist while Michal Neuvirth made 33 saves for the shutout in a game the Devils would have liked to win before embarking on a four-game road trip. The loss left New Jersey within reach of a playoff spot with just 11 games left to play.

"We'll just keep going," Patrik Elias said. "We just have to win the next game and that's all. Hopefully we get back on a winning track. That's all. There's no other thought."

Blue Jackets – Columbus remained in playoff contention through most of this season, but a seven-game losing streak that started on Feb. 27 has put a serious damper on their postseason hopes. The Jackets have gone 2-2-0 since the losing streak, but they will need a strong season-ending run to be included in the playoffs.

Against Minnesota on Saturday afternoon, Columbus led by two goals with slightly more than five minutes left in regulation. But two Wild goals in 3:04 sent the game to overtime before Antoine Vermette scored the winner with just 34 seconds remaining in overtime. Sami Lepisto led the Jackets' offensive charge with 3 assists, his first points since coming to Columbus from Phoenix at the Trade Deadline, while team captain Rick Nash had two goals and two assists. The win kept the Jackets in contention for a playoff spot with 11 games to play.

Who's hot – After a slow start to the season, Brian Rolston has rediscovered his scoring touch with 6 points in his last eight games. Elias saw his five-game point streak end against the Capitals, but still has 6 points in his last six games. … Nash has 9 points in his last seven games for the Jackets.

Injury report – Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador is done for the season due to a concussion while Zach Parise (knee) and Matt Taormina (ankle) are on IR. David Steckel is expected to return after being pulled against Washington with an upper body injury and Matthew Corrente could be back soon after recovering from a shoulder injury. … For the Jackets, Kristian Huselius, Anton Stralman, Andrew Murray, and Chris Clark are all out with lower-body injuries.

Stat pack – Considering Columbus' record against Eastern Conference teams, they might want to lobby the NHL for conference realignment. They are 10-2-2 this season against the East.

Puck drop – Kovalchuk has gone pointless in consecutive games for the first time since Jan 20 and 22. In between these streaks, he scored 25 points in 22 games. This game could be the perfect opportunity to snap his slump, as Kovalchuk has 11 points in eight career games against Columbus.

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